I was standing on DT Fleming beach in Maui, staring down at my feet, squeezing the cool sand in between my toes. All the while, I was trying to focus on what I could control, the temporary tattoos my feet were leaving as impressions in the sand. I was a spec among 800 elite athletes dressed in colorful caps, black speed-suits, and an infinite variety of goggles. We were all, in our own way, counting down the time for the cannon to sound. Above us, a helicopter was overpowering the melodic and symphonic waves of the Pacific Ocean by creating its own ocean of waves and war-like sound to go along with it.
I turned my gaze to the horizon, but just a few feet in front of me, I was mesmerized watching the facial expressions and body language of the professional Xterra Athletes at an arms length from me. They were bracing for work, their livelihood, their occupation, their business. But today wasn’t another case of the Mondays, today was their biggest day of the year. This was their chance to close the biggest deal in company history, their chance to get their name immortalized on the plaque of history! Today wasn’t just a regional or national spiff at the office this was for all the marbles, this was the 2017 XTERRA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!
I couldn’t help but smile while standing so close to their dreams. Walking on the same sand as a soon to be World Champion. Maybe the guy just a few feet in front of me would be the new champ.
Today, I would compete against the best in the world! We would all swim, bike and run the same course. I would know the sites, sounds, and emotions that they would feel.
Sure, I had been to big sporting events. I went to the ’97 Baseball World Series cheering on the Cleveland Indians. I sat in premium seats at the Indianapolis 500. I yelled at the 50 yard line during the Michigan Vs Ohio State game when they were both ranked #1 and #2 in the country. But I always dreamed of playing in the game, not watching from the sidelines, even though it is significantly more comfortable from the sidelines and much easier to critique when you’re not actually in the game. And a lot less preparation! Today, only I and a few people close to me knew how hard it was to earn my spot in this athletic event.
But as I stood there it made me ponder, at what point in life, is it expected for you to take a seat in the stands and just watch? Your life becomes a story told completely in the past tense. Sadly for many people the most excitement they get in a week is based on a league they play in that starts with “fantasy.”
It made me think and I tried to remember who was the first person that told me, “You can do whatever you put your mind to!”? Was it my mom when she handed me a brown bagged lunch before school, my dad after a little league game, a coach after practice, or a teacher before summer break?
Whoever it was, I believed them. You also heard this phrase and even if just for a split second, believed that, “You could really do whatever you put your mind to!”
And then over time, you very slowly, like the changing of a leaf color, stopped believing. But you didn’t forget the phrase, because if you’re like me, you start using it with your own kids. You drive them to school, and just before they open the door you look in the backseat, state their name, tell them to have a great day and that, ”if they put their mind to something they can do whatever they can imagine!”
As soon as the car door closes, I think back to my mother saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”
BOOOOOMM! The cannon went off. I hear foot steps patter into the ocean all around me like 300 men trying to all run though a puddle at once. A wave, almost as tall as me, stares at me, hoping to knock me down and send me back to shore where it believes I belong. While I may not be as strong as this wave, I am smarter, so I gasp for a breath of air and dive down below the rip current; all the noise immediately disappears. I dig my fingers into the sand, holding my position as the wave lunges at me and misses as I feel it pass above me. I surface and here comes another relative of the wave I just beat. I repeat the same routine, win again, and resurface. Then, all of the sudden, I get struck in the back of the head! “Ow!” I scream under water, not to be heard above the surface, but I felt it. WHAM! It happens again! I looked to my right and realized it was the guy next to me as my head was inline with his stroke! I swam faster to try to get out of his way.
I imagined what we looked like from above–from a birds perspective. We probably looked like a school of fish trying to escape a lurking predator coming from deep in the sea, but our predator today wasn’t visible. Our predator was time! Time would catch us, some faster than others. In fact, at some point, time will catch all of us; not just this race, but in life. Every word you read, it clicks. But we see time as a friend, that we should sit with on the dock of a bay with. But it’s an illusion; use time to your advantage, as a motivator, a tool, a guide, but never a timer or alarm. And always teach those younger than you that time is not a commodity, but a very limited resource to be cherished and used because you can’t save up and use it later in life.
The waves brought me back to dry land. This time I used their strength and power to replenish mine, which was finite and limited, especially after fighting the ocean and my competitor’s hands and feet for the last 20 minutes. My ears were filled with water, but my eyes clear because of my goggles. People were jumping, yelling, waving and pointing, as if the taped course didn’t allow me good direction, but their enthusiasm was highly motivating. And, at times, their hysteria was a comic relief depending on the spectator and how close their athlete was to exiting the water behind me.
I jumped on my bike like a cowboy mounts his horse when he sees trouble out on the range. However, my horse was self propelled and this cowboy was already breathing heavily! I passed a few people, but before long, my name seemed to naturally morph from Jordan to “on your left.” The hill I was climbing seemed to become more and more like a treadmill with an incline of 20% with no ‘off’ button to push. My heart rate was sky rocketing, but if the other competitors were pedaling, so was I. After all, I always wanted to be one of the competitors in a World Championship setting, and I literally did whatever it took to qualify for this day! 12,000 miles, 8 states and over 10 Xterra races– all my rookie season as a Triathlete and first time on a mountain bike this year. It made me think that just 6 months ago was my first race and now I’m going up against the best in the world. It made me think about that phrase again.
“You can do whatever you put your mind to,” and that included qualifying and finishing this race! I put my head down and slowly traversed up that mountain. Sweat flowing out of my pours, I could literally feel it exit my skin. My heart rate still at record levels! I was grunting, like someone had put too much weight on the bench press, let me bring the bar down to my chest, and then walked away, leaving me alone to find a way to get it back up! But I have learned that if your mind is forced to do something, it always finds a way, for better or for worse.
I had now come to a point called Razor Ridge, the name speaks for itself; it has incredible views on both sides. When one thinks of Hawaii’s beauty, this is what I was experiencing at this very moment. It was perfection! It was at Razor Ridge that time seemed to slow down for me. It allowed me to take mental pictures that will always leave a lasting image in my mind. Of course, I know, everything we see will leave a lasting image in our minds so be careful what you allow in, but this one I will choose to keep consciously. One that I will keep at the surface and hang on the wall of my mind as a masterpiece!
It was only seconds later that I was feeling, smelling and tasting Hawaii in a different way. I was heading downhill at speeds that were beyond my current 6 months of capabilities and talents on a mountain bike along with my over confident attitude. I was about to be humbled, because as I launched down the mountain in a fury and kicked up dust behind me, a tree stump was patiently waiting for my arrival. He was calm and didn’t chase me or lunge at me; he just sat there, as he had since the day he was cut down. My front tire couldn’t help but enthusiastically greet him that morning, and that stump caused my horse to buck me off and launch me into some brush and a pile of jagged rocks. My left hip and wrist seemed to land in sync. My brain sensed pain immediately and, at the same moment, had me check my bike to ensure it was still ride-able. The jungles in Hawaii may look soft in pictures, but it’s just as hard as the concrete sidewalks you walk along everyday in your urban jungles. I slowly peeled myself off the ground and put all my weight on my right leg. My face squinted as I looked under my suit to see if I was bleeding. The stump was still sitting in the same place, with the same unimpressed expression, even after that acrobatic swan dive I just did for him. The stump offered no apology to me and I am not here to blame the stump for hindering my race. The Obstacles, in life and in races, should always be expected. They are not a matter of “if” but “when,” and it’s how we respond. I was deciding to move on. I pushed my bike for another 100 feet to the bottom of the hill. It hurt quite badly, which was my brain being kind enough to send me a warning that I was truly hurt. It was also the same brain that wouldn’t let me stop today. I assessed the situation, jumped back on the horse, and kept going. This was the World Championship! Michael Jordan played though the flu, and won the Bulls another ring. If you want to do something great, don’t expect it to be easy, and I don’t mean winning a fantasy league. I mean delivering results through actions taken. That means not blaming or making up a story to make you feel better. Learn and move on, keep progressing.
But at the same time, don’t be naive; learn how to avoid pit falls in advance. For example, the evening after the race Xterra hosts an Awards Dinner; my wife and I had the privilege of sitting next to Laura Philipp of Germany who took 3rd over-all in the Pro-Women’s race. She politely laughed at my mishap, stating that due to the top speeds on that down hill, she kept it slightly more tame, because in the dry conditions you can gain incredible speed that can become uncontrollable and unpredictable. Because of that you need to always proceed with caution, because it’s always better to be in control of your bike and stay on your bike rather than get launched off of it because you were trying to reach new speeds in the process. Sometimes, going slower and arriving is better than going too fast and never showing up. Knowing when to step on the gas is just as, if not more, important than being foolish and fearless! So remember to always know thyself!
After that wreck, I realized I was one of the lucky ones. I saw plenty of people who’s wrecks were far worse than mine that day which would cause them to walk it back to transition or even worse cause them to have a DNF. In fact, I had snacks at Dukes Beach Grill after the race with a 4 time Ironman champion, Tom Evans, that snapped his handle bar in half on one of the downhills, causing him to call off his race early.
I, fortunately, unlike Tom, was able finish the bike portion. I pulled the horse back into the transition area and tied it up fully worn out, but thankful it got me home. Because of my hip, I transitioned a bit slower. Before this incident I could never relate to a person with a bad hip.
While I was in the best shape of my life, I must have looked like I had been possessed by an 80 year old man. An 80 year old man chasing after one of his grandkids who had just stolen a cookie off the table prior to finishing their dinner.
I had the drive inside me, but, for the amount of pain and effort going into each step, the output was extremely disappointing. The first part of the trail run was all uphill. Running is my strength and I can run with the best of them over some miles, especially if we are competing for something.
However, people started passing, and then more. I tried every psychological trick in the book and none of them worked. It was so frustrating knowing I had the ability inside, but the pain was too great to use it. Or so I thought! That is until the start of mile 6, when all I could think about was my wife and kids at the finish line. I realized that the faster I could run this last mile, the faster I could see them. It’s only 4 laps around the track! I felt like Forest Gump losing his leg braces! I started to “run.” I started to pass some people. I didn’t even care that I was passing people. The final quarter mile was running in the sand and I gave it every bit I had left. My stoic mindset that started this race had been swallowed by the ocean and this was all about survival, and as many of you know, I am a firm believer in the Gazelle Mindset, which is something I coined.
The final stretch–one guy in front of me! I had to go by him. I could see my kids jumping, I could hear them yelling “Go Daddy!” For a moment I was healed; I made my move and passed one final competitor. It just so happened that the guy I was passing had beaten me in every single race that we faced each other this year and he was the regional champ for his area.
I grabbed my son and daughter with one thing left to do. Cross that finish line!
My daughter holding my hand, and my oldest son, Win, playing catch up. I picked him up the way Scrooge picked up Tiny Tim on Christmas morning, swung him around and embraced when we crossed that line! All my pain gone for the moment. I set him down on the grass and looked at both of them in the eyes and said believe me when your Dad tells you this, “You can STILL do whatever you put you mind to!”
And so can you!